Who will save Dawoodi Bohras from themselves?

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By Shabbir Hussain Shaikh Badruddin MadraswalaJan 29, 2014

The expectation and longing for a Saviour is found among many communities. The Jews still await the Messiah. The Christians expect Christ to come again. The Hindus hope for an avatar of the Lord to destroy adharma and establish dharma. The Bohras also await the reappearance of the Imam in the progeny of lmam Taiyyeb who went into seclusion about eight hundred years ago. It's been a long wait. These yearnings are more articulate in times of acute distress and despair. The Saviour, however, in unlikely to succour a people who have despaired and resigned themselves to their fate.

Majority of even ordinary Bohras are aware that all is not well with their community. They blame all its ills on the kothar (the religious establishment), the Shahzadas (Eminences belonging to the family of His Holiness, Syedna), the local town priests and their jamat committees. It is easy and also comfortable to find fault with others. For a change, should not the Bohras ask themselves how much they are responsible for the mess that is their community? If it is true that a people get a government they deserve, is it then not true that a community deserves a clergy it has? If they want the clergy to change and reform, should not they first change and reform? God, it is said also helps only those who help themselves.

First things first. The Bohras should understand the importance of the extent of their knowledge or ignorance about Islam, their religion. For instance how many of them understand the meaning of The Holy Quran? Is it not the word of God as revealed through the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) as an everlasting guide? (42:52). Is it not a Book of Wisdom (31:2) and is it not a lucid Book (28:2 & 36:69), a perspicuous Book (44:2) as stated in The Holy Quran? Inspite of what the Bohras may have been told or taught, The Holy Quran is magnificent in its simplicity and clear in its statements. (“And easy have We made the Quran for admonition". 54:17, 54:22, 54:32 & 54:40). Though there is always virtue in the recitation of the name and word of God, is it not also necessary that His word be understood? It is a fact that overwhelming majority of Bohras are almost totally ignorant of the meaning of The Holy Quran.

It will not do for the Bohras to entirely blame their clergy for their shortcomings. Besides, they should realise that the clergy has a vested interest in keeping them ignorant. If they do not know Arabic, translations of The Holy Quran with excellent commentaries are available in many languages. They should not worry too much about what the Bohra clergy may say about the inexactitude of the translations or the inadequacy of the commentaries. The Bohra clergy is not known to be modest about its pretentions. The Holy Quran is for all mankind. Is it the contention of the Bohra clergy that everyone should learn Arabic to benefit from The Holy Quran? To state the obvious, would the Arabs have responded to the call of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) if The Holy Quran had been revealed in a non-Arabic language? (41:44, 43:2 & 45:58)

Similarly, the Bohras are almost totally ignorant of the practices (sunna) and the sayings (hadith) of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him), their history and their traditions. Not that all these are not available in translations. If the truth be told, the Bohras, inspite of their apparent religiosity, accord low priority to acquiring knowledge about their religion. Acquisition of wealth rather than knowledge is their principal preoccupation. The clergy also encourages them in the pursuit of wealth as this benefits them. It is a widely accepted axiom that an ignorant community is an oppressed community, an exploited community. An ignorant community is also an easy community to manipulate. If they will, therefore, overwhelmingly continue to minister to their material well-being and neglect to become knowledgeable about their faith, they should not then complain about the ill-health of their community.

Neither is ignorance bliss for the Bohras. For all their supposedly "spiritual" and even social needs, they have become excessively dependent on the clergy and they have become servile. For non-Bohras used to their priestly classes providing them services, it is, perhaps, inconceivable that a community should be made to subserviently serve a clergy. This in fact is the topsy-tuurvy world of Bohras. They have none else to blame. They mortgaged their minds, allowed themselves to be brain-washed and were constrained to surrender their freedom to their clergy. They fear their clergy more than, perhaps, they fear God. To even loosen the clergy's grip, the Bohras have a long and painful haul ahead unless a prayed-for "miracle" intervenes to rescue them.

The situation is, perhaps, not as hopeless as the Bohras imagine. In the small town of Ranala on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, the local Bohras enjoy glasnot and freedom from fear of clergy that would be the envy of the Bohras elsewhere if they knew it. Unlike Udaipur and Aurangabad where large sections of the Bohras have broken with the religious establishment, the Bohras of Ranala are very much part of the recognised faithful. However, they do not allow the clergy, the Aamil (the town priest) or the jamat committee to dictate to them or dominate their religious and social life. This is so because the Ranala Bohras do not crawl when they are only asked to bend. Neither do they pander to the caprices of the clergy nor tolerate its nonsense. It is, indeed, a remarkable town, an exception that proves the rule. If the Bohras elsewhere, therefore, will not cultivate virtues necessary to safeguard liberty, and imagine that anybody else is going to "liberate" them, they are then, at best, living in a dream-world.

Ranala has some important lessons for the Bohras. For one thing, there is no substitute for moral courage. The Bohras crawl because they lack courage and they crawl because they are highly self-centered. Their skin is more dearer to them than truth, virtue, honour, self-esteem, friendship and even blood-ties. What is obvious is not often obvious to the Bohras. Even if their clergy or anybody else tells them otherwise, what is right is always so and what is wrong is wrong. As they are dependent on the clergy, to provide them rationalisations and justifications for their attitudes and behaviour and also because their “self”, their "world is too much with them", the Bohras have lost the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood. In the murky world of Bohras, fair has become foul and foul has become fair.

What is courage? The life of the Holy prophet (peace be on him), Hazrat Ali and the sacrifices of lmam Hussain should demonstrate to them what is courage. Isn’t courage the ability to stand up for one’s convictions regardless of consequences, to wage holy war (jihad) against injustice and oppression , to oppose tyrants and bullies, to fight the enemies of Dawat-e-Hadiyah (The True Mission), whoever they may be, wherever they may be ? Is not this the truth of the martydom of lman Hussain? Is it sufficient to shed some tears and forget the lesson? Because the Bohras lack convictions, they lack courage. They lack convictions, because they do not reflect, they do not comprehend, they are not a religious community. As T. S. Eliot said, "There is no community not lived in praise of God". The Bohras only praise their clergy. They have allowed their consciences to be hijacked by the clergy. Unfortunately convictions and courage are not commodities available off the shelves in the mercantile world of the affluent Bohras.

The Bohras of Ranala have also conveyed to the clergy that its place is the mosque and the pulpit. The failure of Bohras elsewhere to keep the clergy in its proper place has allowed the clergy to totally dominate all aspects of their lives. Belatedly they have realised that this domination has stifled them but now they do not know what to do. This domination has proved quite lucrative for the clergy. Having tasted blood, the clergy is in no mood to oblige them and let them off the hook easily. Laziness, and lack of vigilance has cost the Bohras their liberty. If they will not overcome their apathy and laziness, they should not bemoan what has befallen them. 

Another important lesson of Ranala is that the Bohras there have not allowed the clergy to divide them and rule. To promote its worldly interests, the Bohra clergy has divided the community into haves and haves-not. It encourages the rich Bohras to purchase from it honorific titles by permitting them limited access to corridors of ecclesiastical- power. Their not-so-fortunate brothers-in-faith are kept at arm’s length and are subjugated to this new "aristocratic bureaucracy". These rich but simpleton Bohras do not seem to have realised that they are as much the victims of the clergy as their poor cousins. As they represent the executive arm of the clergy, all the suppressed wrath of an oppressed community is deflected from the clergy and directed at them. If they will realise the clergy's game, it will be in their interest to unite with their poor brethern in a common cause to end the clergy’s unholy domination of the community. If not, then their "destiny is with God". (2:275)

It will be better if the Bohras also shed their "superstition" that anybody can guarantee them a place in the sun, leave aside a place in heaven. The Holy Quran repeatedly affirms, "no soul shall bear the burden of another". Their deeds only will either make or break them. The Holy Quran also repeatedly exhorts that mere belief not conjoined with "righteous deeds" will not avail the believers. It is unfortunate that after fourteen hundred years, an obvious truth needs to be belaboured. The "righteous deeds" concretize love and compassion, honour and valour, charity, mercy and justice. The Bohras will, perhaps, be the last to deny that these virtues are today conspicous by their absence among them. The Holy Prophet had said, "all communities suffered discord; my community will suffer discord arising out of wealth". Indeed prophetic!

There is a lot more to the Bohra mess than what has been discussed. However, basics will remain basics. The Bohras, therefore, should take a hard look at themselves. May be, they will have to subject themselves to the crucible of self-examination if they want to improve their lot. The Holy Quran again and again exhorts mankind to reflect, to comprehend and addresses itself to "men of understanding and acumen". If the Bohras will not reflect and understand, the noises they make will remain an exercise in futility and self-delusion.

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